Early Childhood Studio Lesson
would make a ceramic
aquarium castle, small
enough to fit within his or
her plastic container. They
would also each receive a few
fish and learn how to take
care of them. This would be
a unique learning experience
because approximately half
of Hiller’s students are from
outside of the United States
and their transient lifestyle
has allowed few to ever have a
pet of their own.
3. Pinch a piece of clay into a slab
big enough to fit between the two
coil towers, about 2" (5 cm) long.
Moisten and attach to the towers
On my long commute
home from school, I
occasionally take a
break from the drive and
browse through an antique mall.
A few years ago, I was captivated
by a collection of antique ceramic
aquarium castles. I was attracted to
their sculptural simplicity, greenish-brown glaze, and large size. The
dealer said they were from English
pond gardens. Although they were
out of my price range, I did get permission to photograph them.
4. Add details. With a pin tool, cut
square notches (crenellations)
into the tops of the towers. Some
students simplified this process
by pressing a modeling tool
repeatedly into the top of the clay
towers. Make small windows
near the top of the towers. With a
pin tool, cut an arched doorway.
I encouraged students to make
openings large enough so that
a goldfish could
Classroom teachers also pass through them.
embraced this project into the towers and
since it made connections gatehouse.
to the unit they teach on
caring and responsibility.
For visual and
tactile aids, I
taped castle pic-
tures to the wall,
made copies of
the antique castle
and had the new
aquarium castles on the work tables
for viewing and handling. Making
an entire castle in clay would be
too big and time consuming, so we
decided only to make the castle’s
The castles were
allowed to dry for
The Eureka Moment
Each year, my Parent-Teacher Orga-
nization gives every teacher a fifty
dollar bill to help offset classroom
expenses. This year I had a eureka
moment and knew exactly how I
would spend the money. I began
looking in dollar stores until I
found the perfect, clear, two-quart
plastic, lidded container. I bought
thirty-eight, one each for my sec-
ond graders. With the remaining
twelve dollars, I bought three small
ceramic aquarium castles.
Each second grader
a week, then bisque fired. I offered
two options for glazing: either fantasy using yellow, orange, and red;
or realistic, using gray and black.
Students brushed on low-fire underglazes, and then I applied a clear
cover coat and fired the pieces.
1. Roll a golf-ball-size piece of clay
to create a base approximately ½"
(1 cm) thick.
Preparing for the Fish
2. Roll two fat coils, each about 1"
(2.5 cm) in diameter and cut each
to about 4" (10 cm). Push a pencil
down through the center of the
coils to hollow them. Moisten
the bottom of each coil and snug-gly fit them into the base, about
2" (5 cm) apart.
Although the owner of the pet store
declined my offer to come talk to
the students, he did donate all of the
guppies and fish food. I had experimented with feeder goldfish, but
the guppies were the hardiest and
their small size made them ideal for
investigating the students’ castles.
The classroom teachers and I
talked to the students about how
to take care of their new pets: feed
every other day, change half the
water once a week, keep new water
for cleaning in a plastic milk jug for